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How Progressive Is Your Legislator?

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Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Massachusetts politicians are generally considered to lean far left. But does reality match that reputation?

A new legislative scorecard offers some answers. The report, put together by the group Progressive Massachusetts, looks at roll-call votes taken in the Statehouse during the 2011-12 legislative session.

The group culled through all roll-call votes taken in the House and Senate, identifying those it determined to have a clearly progressive, or non-progressive, position. For example, a vote against allowing casino gambling in the state was considered progressive “because the costs (addiction, traffic congestion) outweigh the benefits (jobs), which might otherwise be generated through investment in other industries, at less total cost.”

In addition, a legislator could earn progressive points for voting against bills that would reduce the state’s income tax, create a “three strikes” system for criminal offenders, and kill efforts to update the state’s Bottle Bill, and voting for bills supporting transgender rights, affordable housing and labor unions.

In total, state reps were evaluated on 19 votes and senators on 37.

So how did the Valley’s delegation fare? Most had a mixed record on progressive votes, including some legislators generally considered to be on the lefter end of the political spectrum. State Reps. Peter Kocot (D-Northampton), Steve Kulik (D-Worthington) and John Scibak (D-South Hadley) had identical records, voting “progressive” on 13 of the 19 bills on the House scorecard; they parted with the defined progressive line on votes regarding casinos, immigration, criminal justice and proposed restrictions on food stamp benefits. Rep. Ellen Story (D-Amherst) had a similar voting record, differing from her colleagues only on the food stamps vote.

In the lower Valley, Rep. Ben Swan (D-Springfield) voted more consistently progressive, casting non-progressive votes only three times. Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera (D-Springfield) had no non-progressive votes on her record, although she did have a notable number of absences, missing six of the 19 votes analyzed.

Other Valley legislators had more mixed records: Reps. Sean Curran and Angelo Puppolo, both Springfield Democrats, cast 10 progressive votes and nine non-progressive, for instance. State Sen. Michael Knapik of Westfield might be a member of that rare breed—a Western Mass. Republican—but his voting record was far from hard-line partisan; he voted non-progressive on 23 bills, but progressive on 14.

Progressive Mass. did not score legislators’ voting records, saying that “there are many factors that go into an elected official’s progressive status,” such as whether he or she has been a leader on important issues. In addition, the group noted, certain key issues, such as reproductive rights, may not come up for a vote.

Progressive Mass. also noted that its scorecard has limitations, given how infrequently individual legislators’ votes are taken on the record. “[R]oll calls are the exception, not the rule, and some important votes were not roll called,” the group pointed out. “[W]e urge more frequent roll calls in the future, for greater transparency and accountability; the more measures by which citizens have to assess their elected representatives, the better.”

The scorecard can be found at www.progressivemass.com.•

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